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Suddenly, there is a child at my feet. Barely a toddler, he has shaggy red hair and an impish face, currently crumpled in a toothy smile. When I finally realize what he is doing, it is too late stop him. He sinks his teeth in my ankle, leaving nine miniature cuts. For a moment I am completely stunned, the pain is overwhelming.
Leap out of my chair, I scoop him up. The grin quickly changes into a sob, which in turn changes to a pitiful call.
“Now you hush. Your mother is out, and I have no sympathy.”
Francis wails louder, making me regret my hasty words. I shift him onto my shoulder, and hurry to the nursery, half blinded by the pain in my ankle. Three doors from the end is his room. I push the door open, revealing a neat chamber, dominated by a crib trimmed with ivory lace and azure ribbons. On the right side they are torn to pieces; I sigh loudly, hoping to shame Francis. He just screams louder, right in my ear. Suddenly out of patience, I dump him in the crib and race back to my room, throwing myself onto the bed. I can’t stay here and rest, the cradle needs to be fixed before Duchess Saston returns at eleven; and Francis needs to be quieted. All in fifteen minutes. Why don’t I just resign? I’ve never been able to stand small children. I shake my head. No good thinking that way. To bolster my spirits, I whisper my motivation aloud.
“I am working here so my sister can attend university. In six months, she will graduate and work to fund my studies. Six months. That’s only… 213 days. 212 now.”
A year and a half ago those words gave me joy. Recently, I’ve repeated them so often that they’ve become rusty, depressing even. A reminder of what my sister is enjoying- what I long for. And an old hope that time has turned into a fantasy. An enjoyable, but apparently obvious fantasy. I can’t cry right now. I have work to do. Peeling myself off the too thin quilt, I take my sewing basket down the hall. I’ve been gone too long. Francis is finally asleep, but the clock says ten minutes to eleven. I begin stitching the lace back on as fast as I can, but my fingers are clumsy with nervousness. The job is only three fourths finished, when bells tolls eleven. The duchess is, as always, punctual. She sweeps into the room, her disapproving glance lingers first on me, then Francis, then the walls around her. She hates it all. Laying a gloved finger daintily on the edge of the cot, she turns back to me.
“Do you know what this crib is made of?”
All her questions are rhetorical.
“The ribbons are made of Japanese silk, a foot of which costs one hundred and twenty euros. The cradle contains nineteen yards of silk. The lace is from Italy, and is sold at four hundred ten euros per yard. The cradle contains ten yards of lace. This knowledge leads us to the question of…”
Duchess Saston paused for effect.
“What do you think you are doing to it? Certainly not trying to improve its looks I hope.”
One can’t reason with her ladyship.
“I’m sorry milady.”
“Duchess, thank you. Sew that up properly – tomorrow I will personally inspect it for mistakes - and mark my words; if something of this sort ever happens again…. Let’s just say that there are dozens of more capable governesses.”
She leaves, giving the room a final glare. I bend over, picking out my stitches. My leg hits the crib; it burns, and blood trickles down.
“Only six months left.”